A Milton High School hazing victim is seeking a slew of student records as part of a negligence lawsuit against the school district.
The subpoenas – and subsequent motions to quash them – are the latest in the case filed last April.
The suit is the second of its kind following the 2014 criminal prosecution of five former Yellowjacket players for sodomizing underclassmen with wooden objects at football team functions between 2011-12.
The civil lawsuit says the school district knew about the hazing culture on the team and failed to protect the plaintiff from harm. The Milton Independent is withholding his name per policy to keep victims of sexual assault anonymous.
The parties met for the first time in court on June 11, when Judge Robert A. Mello heard arguments on the victim’s subpoena for unredacted records from the 112 students who played football between 2009-12.
The request, filed by attorney Jerome O’Neill of Gravel & Shea, seeks 15 categories of documents, including football players’ disciplinary records, unredacted investigative reports from both the school district and police, social media posts and more.
The plaintiff is also seeking all documents viewed by independent investigator Dan Troidl, a retired Vermont State Police captain whose 2015 review concluded the school district failed to properly investigate hazing.
Ten former players filed motions to stop the effort, citing protections afforded by the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act. Some appeared in court last Monday and sat quietly in the back row, without legal representation.
“While we certainly agree that student records are private and should be protected, they’re not impenetrable and in fact can be obtained through this FERPA subpoena exception,” plaintiff attorney Celeste Laramie said.
Attorney Alison Bell represented her client Brian Lasell, one of the five players implicated in the criminal case. The plaintiff alleges Lasell and teammate Colby Darling dragged him to Lasell’s basement during a team dinner and inserted a pool cue into his rectum, over his clothing.
Bell said her client was “exonerated,” but Laramie corrected the record: Lasell was charged with simple assault and pleaded out to an 18-month probationary sentence, which was later expunged from his record.
Bell said Lasell “was, at most, present” for the assault and doesn’t wish to relive this “exceedingly painful period of time.” She told the court the plaintiff would abuse the information in Lasell’s record since they believe the plaintiff slashed Lasell’s tires and sent threatening messages to Lasell’s girlfriend. She added the plaintiff’s father has threatened Lasell in public.
Laramie denied the plaintiff presents any risk to Lasell but said they’d agree to a protective order to ensure his safety.
The plaintiff is also seeking records from 2000-08 to establish the district’s “culture of sexual assault,” court documents say.
These include personnel records from former MHS athletic director Jamie Rugg, who was convicted in 2003 of sexually assaulting a Milton student, and former MHS football coach Chris Hughes, who was the subject of a police investigation in 2005, court documents say.
These incidents were also broached in a nearly-identical lawsuit from the family of late hazing victim Jordan Preavy in August 2015. A judge dismissed that case last fall; an appeal is pending in the Vermont Supreme Court.
Hughes was never criminally charged, but both lawsuits say he was investigated for sexually assaulting an underage student at his home and at the blockhouse, ironically the same location Preavy was sodomized years later.
Hughes left the football team in March 2014 after more than two decades with the program and four months before the Milton Independent broke the news of the hazing scandal. Then-superintendent John Barone, who was fired for mishandling the hazing complaints, said Hughes’ retirement was unrelated.
Reached last Friday, Hughes said he cooperated with the Chittenden Unit for Special Investigations, and the allegations were baseless. A copy of the investigative report included in court filings says, “there is not sufficient evidence of a sexual relationship.”
“It was an awful time in my life and one that I hoped to not ever revisit, and evidently it’s revisited,” he said, adding, “I was [never charged], and there was nothing to this.”
The plaintiff argues these records show “the need to more closely supervise students” and how poorly Milton handles these allegations, filings say.
Speaking for the district, defense attorney Adrienne Shea said the only relevant records are from 2009-12, when both the perpetrators and the plaintiff attended Milton High School.
Anything beyond that can’t demonstrate “foreseeability,” she said.
“Students who were on the team in 2008 never were teammates with the perpetrators, never were teammates with the plaintiff,” Shea said. “It’s simply too far removed.”
Court filings by lead defense attorney Pietro Lynn say fulfilling the subpoenas for previous football seasons would create an undue burden on the school district.
He argues any information about Rugg is irrelevant, and Rugg’s conviction had no bearing on MHS student misconduct 12 years later.
As of press time Tuesday, Judge Mello still had the case under advisement.